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Being a Teaching Assistant

Posted by caaponte on October 26, 2017 in Fall Semester, Future of the United States, Senior Year, University Life

During my freshman year, if you asked me if I would ever be a TA – my response would be:

Absolutely not

Why? Well because, why would I add additional responsibilities to my own responsibilities that I am working to balance.

Fast forward to my senior year – choosing to be a TA is single-handedly one of – if not the best – decision I have made to date. Why? Because it is not an added responsibility. It is a humble reminder of how far we have all come in our undergraduate careers and how much more room we have to grow. I am supposed to be teaching them, but I never realized that they would also be teaching me. They each arrived to UB with a history of trauma, disappointment, some form of loss, and often with the idea that AP Biology would make the transition easy. Their stories have inspired me to continue moving forward even when I feel as though I have too much on my plate. In fact, hearing them confident enough to share my story makes me feel as though a support group during your fall semester of freshmen year is absolutely crucial.

I lead my own lab but I assist in another with one of my best friends. We try to create a judge-free environment because we remember how intimidating it was sitting amongst 28 others in Evolutionary Biology. Students don’t yet realize that they don’t need to ask permission to use the restroom and refrain from participating in lab because they aren’t yet confident in their answers.

As their TA, I hope to assist them in the transition to university life. I’ve lived it. I understand it. Every semester has had its ups and downs and I’m not afraid to share that with my students. I share with them how I tackled more difficult topics. I hope that my stories have inspired them to reach their potentials and to want more from their education.

The undergraduate degree is more than just academic growth. Toward the end of the semester, I will ask them to reflect on their undergraduate experience and hope to find that the highs and lows have only promoted personal growth.

In the meantime, I continue to revamp the way I run my lab. There is no perfect way to monitor or teach a group of 28 students from all different backgrounds, but I will continue trying my best. I hope others can follow my lead and choose to TA a class. I hope that they get as much out of the experience as I have and see the value in instructing the next generation of STEM students. It helps you visualize that this field is much larger than just you. When you plan to meet with a student, the exam you have the next day can wait until after you help the freshman sitting before you transition to university life.


Refrain from using the word ‘Coddled’

Posted by caaponte on April 29, 2017 in Future of the United States, Futuristic Thinking, Junior Year

So I read this article about a student from Fordham University complaining about the free state tuition to students who qualify. She complains on ‘The Odyssey’ about students who are being ‘coddled’ and further encourages those students to get a job instead of expecting their tuition to be paid for. She continues to complain about the outrageous difference between her student loans and those of a state at a state university. Understanding that she had the option to go to a state university instead of drowning herself in student debt, she claims that she decided against that option because state schools just “aren’t for [her].”

Those are her major points and so here are mine:

Freedom of Speech Alert


  1. As a student of a state university, what is so bad about our system? I am a competitive candidate for professional schools and am accepted into internships and research programs where I work alongside students from private schools. Your experience is what you make of it.
  2. I am confused as to how she felt that every student given tuition coverage must be coddled. After working in Buffalo public schools helping to fill out their FAFSA and TAP forms, I can assure you that coddled is not the word they deserve to be called. Many of the students don’t consider themselves to be smart enough to pursue an education in the first place. With many under the poverty line, of course, they feel like their pursuit of a college education (if they possess the confidence in the first place) would be a burden on their family.
  3. Many of these students DO already work while in high school. They come from families where they will be the first to attend college. The expectations are often as high as they set for themselves.
  4. We are investing in the future of New York State. The program needs to feed back into itself and require students to maintain a certain GPA, work in NY for a certain amount of time after graduation, serve as a mentor for new students in the program, and maybe deduct some of their pay (for a specified amount of time) once they’ve established themselves in order to pay for more students to obtain free tuition. It is all a cycle and it is important to look at the big picture. However, if something is simply given, it is not valued as much. And so setting standards as I have listed above would give an encouraging push without making the student feel as though obtaining a higher education is out of their scope.


We are more than what is on the syllabus. So let people have the chance to figure out exactly what that means for them.


The Power of Communication

Posted by caaponte on March 6, 2017 in Future of the United States

For those of you who were there to watch Trevor Noah this past Saturday, you’ll know what I’m talking about. UB brought us a man who could combine his comedy with light brushes of politics and appreciation for diversity. He touched upon the power of communication. The more you learn of other languages, the more you learn how powerful words can be. The idea resonated with me and kept me thinking.

Noah talked about the fear he sees in Americans when they speak. No one wants to say the wrong thing. As a result, we often keep things bundled inside. Yet, negative thoughts are just as bad as having them said them out loud. Or are they?

We whisper words like “black” in order to “not seem racist.” What did Noah advise for us to do? He said, “in order to not seem racist, just don’t be racist. If you’re not racist, you will not have to worry about others thinking you’re racist.”

He proceeded on to discuss the power of the “n” word here in the United States. He recognizes the word as “to give” and it brings him back to childhood memories with his mother and cousin. He questioned why we have given the word so much value and urged us to question how it had gained so much power. We use it to degrade and to hurt. However, eliminating the word all together does not solve the problem of racism. Quite frankly, if it was not that word, there would be another word ready in substitution to ensure it continues to cause harm.

I suppose what I am getting at here is how powerful communication can be. You can “like” a picture, avoid eye contact, nod while listening, say “mhm,” and they all offer a response without using a single word. Aside from nonverbal forms of communication, we have been given a multitude of words to choose from to tell our stories. I find myself telling stories I have heard from my grandmother only to explain afterward that it is funnier said in Spanish. How can something be funnier in Spanish? Sit down and let me tell you it and you will hear the difference.

You don’t have to speak another language to see the power of language. But the next time you choose to speak, consider where the conversation will head. Many times we only have our word, and that can open a door or permanently close it.


What Does it Mean to be American?

Posted by caaponte on February 1, 2017 in Future of the United States, Junior Year

The recent election has me questioning a lot of things. But the one question I keep asking myself is, “What does it mean to be American?”

This past winter break, I met a couple from Belgium and we started comparing life in Belgium to life in the United States. I asked for their perception of Americans and they confessed that they believed all Americans were blonde, blue-eyed, and lazy. Standing there before them as a brown-eyed, brunette (who is not lazy if I do say so myself), it became my personal mission to prove that every American is not the same. Yes – we have blondes and people with blue eyes. But, to couple those who are a bit lazier than others, we also have an entrepreneurial spirit that has driven us to be the first to travel to the moon.

They inquired further and asked what a typical dish in the United States would be. To that, I did not have a definitive answer. “Quite frankly, it depends on where you go.” The United States is flooded with such a wide range of cultures and aside from pizza (THANK YOU ITALY), there is no dish that I could guarantee every household serves.

Although that may be frustrating to incoming foreigners, I think it is a beautiful thing. Where else in the world can you turn to the person to your right, ask where their family immigrated from, and expect a response different from the person to your left. I hope in the upcoming years we continue to appreciate these differences in order to better understand each other’s perspective.

So, to answer my own question of what does it mean to be American…I still do not know. As a melting pot of ideas and customs from all over the world, what does that mean for the United States? How did we get the stereotype of lazy when my parents work long hours to make ends meet and when students work during the semester to finance their education? Was it our reality TV personalities that gave them this idea or was it the impression that we sit around eating McDonald’s all day? Maybe we are seen as lazy because the increasing percentage of first-generation college students are not highlighted in the media. Maybe that means that the voice of the media has a louder voice than we had predicted. If we care how we are seen by others, how can we modify what we display in order to ensure our strengths are highlighted rather than just our weaknesses?

I feel as though it is difficult to gain an understanding of other ways of life from inside the borders of the US and so I am a big fan of traveling to other countries. When I return, I’m often told to “act more American.’ But, again, what does that even mean? Traveling outside of the US is not me running away from problems in my own country. Rather, I am searching to see how similar problems are solved differently. I believe that as we teach others to solve their individual issues, there is also a lot to learn from them as well.


Mr. President – In the upcoming years, I hope that what it means to be American becomes more defined because I would like to know what is expected of me as a United States citizen.